Q: Does the statement in Mark 1:8, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” indicate that Holy Spirit baptism was intended for others besides just the apostles?
Luke’s account gives more details, wherein the observation is made that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16; cf. Matt. 3:11). In the immediate context, the baptism of fire is a reference to the unquenchable fire of hell (vv. 9, 17), reserved for those who are not obedient to Christ (cf. Matt. 3:10-12; 25:41). To be consistent, those who wish to claim Holy Spirit baptism for themselves from this passage must also claim the baptism of fire. However, three baptisms are mentioned here: water, Holy Spirit, and fire. Not everyone on that occasion received water baptism (Matt. 3:7; Luke 7:30), nor is everyone to receive fire baptism (Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17). Who, then, was to receive Holy Spirit baptism? John is merely making a general statement here which is later qualified by Jesus in Acts 1:1-5. The Lord specifically applies John’s statement to his specially chosen apostles. The surest way to understand a prophecy is to consider its fulfillment.
Q: Did the 120 believers of Acts 1:14-15 receive Holy Spirit baptism?
Between Christ’s ascension and the Day of Pentecost the apostles did assemble with 120 disciples (Acts 1:15), yet several days elapsed from the apostles’ return to Jerusalem to the outpouring of the Spirit (1:5). Seeing that Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover (Lev. 23:15-16), and from Christ’s resurrection to his ascension was forty days (Matt. 28:1; Acts 1:3), over a week stood between the Lord’s ascension and Pentecost. Since the temple was the regular assembling place for larger groups (Acts 2:46; 5:42), it is interesting to note that their prayer meetings were in the temple (Luke 24:53), not in the upper room where the apostles were residing. When Luke records that “they” were in one place (Acts 2:1), the nearest antecedent is the “apostles” (1:26). In order to assert that the Holy Spirit was poured out on 120 men and women, one has to skip back over eleven verses and ignore the immediate context. Furthermore, the apostles are the only ones recorded in Acts 2 as speaking from God, and the masculine pronoun houtoi (“these”) in verses 7 and 15 (literally “these men”) clearly has reference to them. Finally, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was never promised to all disciples but specifically “to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:2-5; cf. 2:43; 5:12).
Q: In Acts 2:17-18 do the words “last days,” “all flesh,” and “sons and daughters” indicate that Holy Spirit baptism was not just for first-century apostles?
The phrase “last days” in the NT refers to the last period of Bible history (namely the Christian Dispensation), which began in the first century AD (cf. Heb. 1:1-2), inclusive of a transitional period or the final days of the Jewish Age. Notice that Peter is quoting from Joel 2:28-32 and applying it to the events that were taking place as he spoke (Acts 2:16). It was “in” (not “throughout”) the last days. Joel (who lived around 800 BC) had prophesied about what was to take place in the first century AD.
The words “all flesh” (KJV) or “all mankind” (NASB) cannot be taken in a literal, ultimate sense. No one understands this to mean that the Spirit was to be poured out on absolutely every person in the world, including unbelievers, the disobedient, Buddhists, Satanists, etc. (cf. John 14:17). It must therefore be understood representatively. When Joel received and transmitted the prophecy, there were only two classifications of people in the world: Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, the Holy Spirit was to be poured out on representatives of “all mankind,” namely both Jews and Gentiles. Since all of the apostles were Jewish, Acts 2 only records the initial fulfillment of this prophecy. Later, in Acts 10:44-47, Gentiles (viz. Cornelius’ household, including sons, daughters, male and female servants) received the same Holy Spirit baptism.
The latter part of the prophecy quoted in Acts 2:19-21, though often mistakenly applied to Christ’s return, is actually a symbolic depiction of the dark, terrible day of Jerusalem’s destruction only four decades later in AD 70. This is figurative language typically used by OT prophets to describe God’s judgment and the violent overthrow of a nation (cf. Isa. 13:6-11; 34:1-5; Ezek. 32:7-8; etc.). The prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 had its initial fulfillment in AD 30 on the Day of Pentecost and completed its fulfillment in AD 70 at Jerusalem’s destruction, thus consummating the “last days” of the Jewish Age and ushering in the final period of Bible history.
--Kevin L. Moore